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ISSUE 116 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/21/2003

Blondes battle clichés

By Lindsay Horn
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 21, 2003

Throughout the ages, blondes have had various stereotypes and classifications attached to them. These ideas have gone through continuous changes, ranging from Eve’s innocent golden ringlets that signified purity, to the dumb blonde jokes that relate hair color to intellectual ability.

Thus, these types of associations, along with numerous others, directly imply that there is something unique about being blonde.

To have truly blonde hair is rather rare, as, according to a New York Times article, “among white American and Northern European women, only 20 percent of blondes are actually so.” However, one can hardly say that it is difficult to come across a person with blonde hair, when “one in three white adult female heads is dyed a shade of blonde,” according to journalist Joanna Pitman. If it’s not to be unique, then why do so many women desire light hair?

This question, along with an in-depth look at the history of blondes, is what Pitman focuses on in her book “On Blondes.” Pitman’s book delves into issues of stereotypes recently and currently associated with blondes, popular and figurehead blondes, and whether blondes really do have more fun. Using Pitman’s book as a model, I interviewed some St. Olaf students to see if their ideas matched up with Pitman’s findings.

Although St. Olaf encompasses a diverse body of unique individuals, racially we are not quite as varied, as the total enrollment here is 87 percent Caucasian. Within this large majority, there is obviously an assortment of looks, but it’s undeniable as one glances around campus that most of these people have blonde hair. Clearly, this is not typical of most colleges throughout the country, and the large percentage of blondes is due in part to St. Olaf’s strong Norwegian affiliation. St. Olaf could in fact be one of the few colleges in the country where brunettes actually feel like the minority.

However, due to the large group of blonde-haired people at St. Olaf, many of the students with whom I talked felt that disrespectful generalizations are not as prevalent as they might otherwise be. “I’ve been negatively stereotyped in the past for being blonde, but I’ve never felt that at Olaf,” said Naomi Schwegler ‘04.

In other parts of America, blondes have been and sometimes still are thought of as being ditzy, materialistic, sexier, younger and wealthier than those with darker hair, but it seems that these ideas are dying fast. As people become more educated and worldly, they realize that physical traits such as skin, eye and hair color have nothing to do with personal characteristics.

However, this is not to say that there isn’t something to being blonde. All of the blonde St. Olaf students that I interviewed stated that they would not darken their hair, and that they either liked it the way it is or would consider lightening it. Reasons for loving their fake or real golden hair ranged from Wally Cisewsi’s ’04 statement,“I thought girls would be more attracted to me,” to Jan Kapsner’s ‘04 comment, “More clothes go with blonde hair, and I feel smarter.” From these statements and many others that focused on having more confidence and feeling happier, it seems that being blonde at St. Olaf is generally associated with positive notions.

When asked what first comes to mind when the word blonde is mentioned, and who their favorite blonde is, the students’ responses were extremely varied. For instance, Schwegler said that, to her, the word “blonde” summoned up ideas of angels, and her favorite blonde is either “Pamela Anderson or Margaret Thatcher … it’s a tough call.”

Other blonde image answers were Barbie and Norwegians, and some favorite blondes were Meg Ryan, Kim Catrell, Britney Spears and Madonna. Interestingly enough, “power blondes,” or women who are prominent and powerful societal figures like Hilary Clinton, Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters were left unmentioned. It seems interesting that even in a society where we claim to be unbiased against blondes, those that first come to mind seem to fit the stereotypes of being physically beautiful, successful and glamorous, instead of powerful, political and intelligent.

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